On a night when the Northern Lights had stargazers flocking to the region, Newcastle Falcons and Brive produced an overcast 80 minutes of uninspiring rugby.
Not that the French side will care, all but mathematically now certain of a place in the quarter-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup barring a miracle in next Thursday’s group climax.
Thomas Laranjeira’s penalty five minutes from time wrapped it up, meaning a home win over Italian minnows Calvisano will be enough to send them through.
Both sides had made no bones about their domestic leagues being the priority with mass changes to the line-ups, and a paltry home crowd hammered home the feeling that thoughts were elsewhere.
Joel Hodgson’s up-and-unders and James Fitzpatrick’s chase forced early panic in the Brive back three, but it was a familiar tale of missed opportunities as a long-range penalty was blown wide and a rolling maul in the left corner saw the home side turned over.
Newcastle’s scrummaging dominance did not always get the rewards it deserved as referee Ian Davies’ erratic officiating saw penalties going in both directions, Brive offering none of the handling fluency so associated with the great French sides.
A midfield penalty was hoisted aimlessly into the night sky by the visitors with no co-ordinated chase, Tom Catterick dealing with the danger in a promising showing from the Co Durham native.
The left post denied Newcastle a 25th-minute lead when a second attempted penalty from Hodgson bounced wide, but they were standing firm at the other end where a line-out steal on their own 22 snuffed out a rare French foray. It took a 45-metre strike from Laranjeira to bring a merciful end to the deadlock seven minutes before half-time, but the double-sin-binning of Brive forwards Apisai Naikatini and Kieran Murphy handed the home side the momentum when three scrum re-sets produced a penalty try.
Hodgson converted for a 7-3 lead, narrowed to a single point three minutes after the resumption when Laranjeira stroked over a second penalty from the 22.
Replacement prop Scott Wilson was within a whisker of a try from a close-range burst, Warren Fury and Hodgson finding territory with some well-directed kicks despite the absence of cohesive running outside them.
Laranjeira’s kicking radar finally wavered as the centre erred with a pair of penalties, the predictable raft of replacements around the hour mark failing to join any of the dots.
Mark Wilson was arguably the exception as the big Cumbrian propelled himself over the gain-line, but Brive had a sting in the tail in a much-improved finish.
Back-rower Murphy made an abortive attempt to atone for his earlier sin-binning when his burst down the right saw a shout for a try turned down by the video referee, but Laranjeira’s cool head from the kicking tee did the rest.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: T Catterick, Z Kibirige (N Cato, 63), A Powell, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland, J Hodgson, W Fury; R Vickers, S Lawson (G McGuigan, 75), K Brookes (S Wilson, 40), S Tomes, S MacLeod, R Mayhew (M Wilson, 66), W Welch (captain), C York.
Falcons scorers – Tries: Penalty try. Conversions: J Hodgson.
BRIVE: A Neisen, A Mafi, B Delage, T Laranjeira, S Galala, R Sola (T Sanchou, 50), D Neveu (H Briatte, 53); D Lavergne (G Shvelidze, 63), L Acosta (F Da Ros, 63), J Coetzee (Y Tuncer, 61), S Pinet (V Lebas, 61), A Naikatini, S Hireche (captain), F Laurent, K Murphy.
Sin-bin: A Naikatini (38), K Murphy (39)
Brive scorers – Penalties: T Laranjeira 3.
Referee: I Davies (Wales). Attendance: 2,650.